The Sace Between Us

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Other stories in the set:
Beyond the Buck | Smack Attack | Jody's Journal | Dwarfo's Tale | Zonker's Death | Banana Jackpot

Termites

Termites. The house I own is infested with termites. This morning when I sat down the leg, one leg, of my chair pierced the hardwood flooring of my room. Termites had consumed the floor. This room, perhaps the entire house I thought to myself, is hollow. I am alone in a hollow house. Termites have consumed everything except the eggshell thin layer of flooring they require for their survival. It blocks the light. Termites avoid light.

I'd often said to you, "My house was built one hundred years ago by a retired Civil War General for his wife and children; it's not going anywhere." And now, I'm certain of nothing-- where to step. Perhaps the termites have eaten the beams.

I remain seated in my favorite, only armchair writing a letter I will never mail.

10.3.94

Claudia,

I miss you most when I brush my teeth.

Love,
Milo

I am writing a letter around the letters I never send, a note from between the cracks, the confessions of an insecure man. I am writing to you about what happened at the bank although you don't care for bank stories especially mine. You like celluloid thrillers.

After receiving the keys to my safety deposit box from the head teller, I entered a tiny room with stale air, locked the door behind me, removed a few hundred-dollar bills (only the counterfeit ones remain) and my revolver from my steel box. I call the safety deposit box mine although it is not mine. The box belongs to the bank. I rent it.

I mentioned none of this to the psychiatrist.

The dented cushion of her couch upset me. I held my tongue although I was preoccupied with the similarities between her couch, the emergency room gurney on which they'd placed my father after the last stroke, and whorehouse mattresses. I thought of all the people who'd sat on the same couch and wondered what became of their scent. Did it vanish with a few swipes of disinfectant and a couple spritzes of air-freshener?

I'll bet the psychiatrist has tried on many occasions, between patients, to remove the sweat-stained dent in her cushion. I'm not the only one who feels queasy in the smudgy presence of strangers. Anyway, while I was lying on the psychiatrist's couch wondering what had caused the previous patient to sweat (the cushion was damp), I recalled the bank episode of the morning. The words of the head teller, who escorted me to the tiny rooms for viewing secret things, were muffled as though they were delivered through a sound diffusing ether. I understood her, the head teller, both in the melodic sense (she made friendly noises) as well as in the cognitive sense (payment on my safety deposit box was past due).

This has happened before when I seal myself inside a windowless viewing room lit by a single high power bulb. It begins with the muffled sounds of the bank in general, takes root when I lock the door behind me and inhale the stale air. By the time I've placed my precious collection of objects on the steel table, my loneliness has displaced air with sound baffling ether, leveled out the temperature, desensitized my touch, and rendered me entirely unimpressionable. Everything becomes lukewarm. The three bars of gold that I keep for emergencies had no texture. I heard foot steps in the corridor, a man from the IRS? Anyone would do. I hungered for company. Someone must shatter the silence. Nothing happened. The stepping feet passed. The Internal Revenue Service had no interest in me, the insecure man who inhabits a hollow house. A horn honked. If I'd owned a car I would have honked back, and crushed the silence which bounced off the gun, the gold, the crisp bills with their muffled crinkle, but no one, not a soul knew that I--a man with three bars of gold, a thirty-eight-caliber pistol, and twenty-three phony one hundred dollar bills--was at that very moment shrouded in a dense marshmallow silence that gained momentum became enlarged and supercharged as it filled the locked room full of objects that were not to be spoken of to anyone. The result was an unbearable anxiety. My guts began to digest themselves. I attempted to disembowel myself by having my stomach consume itself.

I mentioned none of this to the psychiatrist. How could I? I said, "I am a man, but I cannot tell you whether or not I am a standing upright man or an upside down man, for I am in space, held fast by an invisible force to a whirling oblate spheroid.

"I live on the western tip of Long Island, glued down by gravity and a farrago of very complex and poorly defined reasons for remaining put, which in a few more years, in my fifties, I'll conclude constitute habits I prefer not to break.

"The globular body to which gravity binds me moves in three directions simultaneously: it spins at one thousand one hundred miles per hour and rotates around our sun at eighteen and a half miles per hour, and travels, as does our sun and all other space stuff, at some specific speed in some specific direction toward no specific destination.

"I reside in a landmark building, a historic structure, a red brick rooming house located in downtown Brooklyn near the Walt Whitman Housing Projects.

"My girlfriend is a month late. Last I heard she was on a tiny island somewhere off the coast of Thailand. I'll write to the American Express office in Bangkok, another note in which I make no mention of love or my passions. All she can bear are feeble flashes, beacons in the fog, proof that I have not forgotten her. The news: Did Willa and Jeff get divorced and who kept the apartment? I fork over a few tidbits, a little gossip, but I'll never show her my private letters. The ones I never send."

I stood at this point, and began pacing around the psychiatrist's office. I considered telling her the truth. I wanted to say, "I wait for the phone to ring. On more than one occasion, I've run out of the bathroom without even wiping my ass. I make appointments for the evening, but I'm ready to cancel them on Claudia's behalf."

I wasn't able to tell the truth (I'm certain a second visit will not be necessary). My girlfriend lives around the corner; she's never been anywhere near Thailand, and my house, my only asset is infested with termites. I do not dash from the bathroom to the phone, because I live above a network of termite tunnels. A dash from the bathroom to the phone could result in a thirty-foot tumble through what remains of hardwood floors, oak sub flooring, and joists to the concrete floor of a cellar to which no one has the keys because I steal electricity. My inability to speak truthfully to the psychiatrist infuriated me. I stared at her legs. They were visible through a slit in her skirt. I didn't even ask the questions which were foremost on my mind: why is it so difficult to tell the truth, and are you fantasizing about fucking me? Instead I asked her in earnest, "What can a man know if he can't even feel the rotation of the earth?" I repeated myself. I said once again, "You are seated on a chair which is on a planet which is spinning through space at over one thousand miles an hour, yet you are not sensible to that motion. Don't you find that astounding? Doesn't it make you wonder? Ask yourself what can I know if I'm not sensible to the motion of a planet moving at one thousand miles per hour?"

After that short speech fueled by passions which had nothing to do with the rotation of the earth; they had to do with my inability to speak the truth, my love of a woman who cannot love, a shortage of real cash, and a thick skinned loneliness that vodka can't extinguish, the roots of my hair were damp. I expected the shrink to comment. She must have known I was sweating, or sensed my lascivious fantasies.

My message on your answering service makes no mention of the termites. I can barely remember what I said. Something about how Jeff found a picture of a fireman in Willa's purse and how the shrink suggested medication and how that suggestion somehow justified my paying her with one of the counterfeit bills.

10.4.94

Claudia,

I imagined our next meeting. It started with a kiss we both understood as a marriage vow. Where are you?

Love,
Milo

How could I write such a letter? Each one stuns me. I've got a fireproof safe full of them. The safe protects them neither from fire nor thieves; it shields them from my own eyes.

The truth is I've thought about you so frequently that I've worn a groove in my brain, and now my thoughts go round and round the same course and conjure up the fantasy you have become.

I spend my days, every day in the library. A perspicacious old man sits near me. I would like to speak with him. I'd use some of the new words I've learned. It's a pity that even considering the old man's censure after I mispronounced "impuissance" causes me to sweat.

H.B. Acting Studio has a course in diction. I've attended three classes. I'm unable to explain myself to my fellow students. They're all young actors. My age, forty plus. My clothing, generic. My story, I live in a rooming house. I spend my days in the library. I think about Claudia; she's a week late, and when money is short, I squeeze deadbeat tenants for rent.

Impuissance. I am powerless. My thoughts always return to you. I am pathetic. I speak to someone who refuses to listen. I write letters that will never be read, yet those thoughts, that awareness changes nothing.

You won't recall, but the tomato incident is seared into my memory. I walked all the way to Brooklyn Heights in the freezing cold to purchase that tomato. One can't get a decent tomato in my neighborhood. I bought a vine ripened organic tomato (they cost four dollars a pound), placed it on my table, and you gulped it down.

Of course, you'd call me cheap, who cares what a tomato costs. That's what you'd say. But the price isn't the issue. That gesture revealed everything. You don't respect me. You didn't even offer me a bite, or ask if I were hungry. You never, as promised, replaced my toothbrush. You dripped tomato juice all over my table, left the vine and a couple of leafs sitting in the juice. The sponges weren't far away, a few feet to your left . . . in the sink. You could have cleaned up.

Your spiteful gesture should have shut my love machine down, not caused me to sweat and mumble.

I clipped off the wings of a termite this morning (in summer termites sprout wings and swarm). The termite refused to quit. It flapped those stubby remnants of wings until it ran out of gas.

The termite reminded me of my indomitable mother. They appear to be powered by the same chip. I can easily envision her at ninety carrying her groceries home, dragging her bad leg along the concrete, swallowing a nitroglycerin pill because of the angina, eating her cabbage, and riding her exercise bike. The bike to nowhere. Why! Why! Why!

What evolutionary explanation can one give for desiring to deposit sperm into a woman who doesn't love you. I'm reading Darwin. I wonder how he'd explain that. He'd probably say my case is irrelevant, for the Homosapien is a very successful mammal, king of the beasts. Therefore, the few anomalies don't count. They have no impact on the overall growth of the species.

I remove my clothing before sitting in my cracked leather saloon chair which had been thrown out twice before I dragged it home. I sip cheap vodka mixed with orange juice made from concentrate. A representative from the Hotel Stabilization Board called this morning about Beulah's rent overcharge complaint. Someday, I'll write an essay on morality. It will start with the premise everyone must perceive themselves as good.

You hate when I speak that way. You call me a cynic although you've never gone upstairs or even spoken to any of my tenants. White people never do.

It is noon. I quiver between my expectation of your arrival and the last words you spoke. They cut me, a rusty razor with a serrated edge. "Ugly. Ugly . . . old big bellied pervert." I recall that line. I grabbed your throat.

What can I hope for? Can I move without expectation? Feed yes. The body struggles to sustain itself. The heart beats; the bowels churn. The dog next door barks; the electric company demands money. American Express offers a gold card, to me, a man who no longer remembers his social security number, and the termites never make a sound while churning hardwood into pulp.

I think often about moving my chair. That would not be difficult. I carried it home. I have what's called sufficient reason. One leg of my armchair has sunk through the flooring. My drink is not stable, because the chair is lopsided. I must hold onto my glass. That should suffice. Being at an awkward angle and consequently uncomfortable should compel me to lift my chair and carry it across the room or to go a step further: check the floor for solid spots and then relocate my chair. Yet I remain in my lopsided chair holding my drink thinking sufficient reason is not a motive. I do not move the chair. I take refuge in my imagination. I dream of duels on deserted beaches in Mexico with the tall handsome man you met on your Cape Cod vacation, the one who owns a boat, the one who doesn't have a name. Does he even exist or is this another test? Are you tormenting me? It's either me or your cat.

10.5.94

Claudia,

I've been passing through your part of town in hope of an accidental meeting. This made me feel bad. It was sneaky. I fear that you returned, but never contacted me.

Love,
Milo

How could I write a letter like that to you? You're foul mouthed and nasty. You think like a hooker: 'Give me the cash. Buy me that. You're vile.' You take money from my pockets while I'm sleeping.

When you stay at my apartment, you act as though you're a guest in a hotel: 'Where's the toilet paper; aren't you hungry? Order yourself a turkey burger. Give me one little bite.' You are nothing but a selfish bitch. Everyone--except your mother-- agrees, and she doesn't talk to anyone. She won't even open the shades and let the light in.

10.6.94

Claudia,

I wait for the phone to ring. I'm here not doing what I'm doing. I'm reading a book while I wait for your call. I'll be here till five.

Love,
Milo

10.6.94

Claudia,

I cannot stop thinking about you. Please phone. I speak to you who else would appreciate my ranting. The silence thunders and I quiver. Food doesn't interest me. I sit naked in my saloon chair. The shutters are closed. Sweat drips from my head. I sweat continually. I remain at home beside the phone.

Love, Milo

Now I'm telling you lies; I'm writing a letter composed of the lies I told the psychiatrist.

Is there a place from which one can view their own life with the clarity of an aftermath, a biopsy that came back negative, a tale of the dog who almost bit me?

I squirm like a hooked fish.

I know you're in town. I gave the homeless man who lives beneath the stoop of the abandoned building across the street from you five dollars and a bottle of wine to keep an eye out. He'll call me if he sees you with another man. That'll earn him a fifth of vodka. The revolver is here in my home. I will shoot your Cape Cod Man.

Forgive me. I suffer from jealous twitches although I know them to be reflexive like the jerk of a healthy patient's knee after a tap of the doctor's rubber mallet.

Lies . . . lies . . . lies. You frequently lie and I'm lying now. I haven't left my room in the past four days. The liquor store delivers, the Chinese-take-out sends a timid man with cold sesame noodles and cigarettes.

I call your answering service every few hours and listen to your simple message. Sounds. The Chinese man recognizes my voice. "A pack of Newports and cold sesame noodles," he says. My silence confirms the order. I pick away at your message service. Four digits, the right four digits, and I've got access to your messages. The machine is programmed to disconnect on the third try. Three attempts per call. Twelve numbers in batches of three. I've called thirty-one times in the past six hours. That's ninety-three attempts at unlocking your electronic mailbox and finding out A) Are you back, and B) who is calling? You're never alone.

I've called your service six more times, consumed another four ounces of vodka, smoked two cigarettes, and practiced my dueling stance in the mirror. What have you done?

I'll never know. You're certain to tell me three or four different stories during the course of that many months. If you're in the mood to anger me, you'll say, "I fucked that man with the boat." And two hours later you'll deny it. "I just wanted to make you mad; I love making you mad." That's what you'll say. "I really went rollerblading with him on Thursday; he couldn't keep up with me." After a couple more months the truths will number four. Four truths to express four emotions.

When you're happy, you curl yourself around me and inspect my hide for blemishes, something to pick at just like the chimp on the cover of this month's National Geographic. You inspect my belly button for lint. And inform me that I don't look good in tank tops, and toss my cheddar cheese out the window. Fat is your enemy. You swat me for looking at another woman's behind. You'll never sleep with me again. I could be with anyone. Why don't I go fuck her? After all she's my type. You rattle on like that, push me away, threaten to leave, and then you forget. Your moods change as quickly as a child's.

Periphrastic thoughts, the sweat dripping from my armpits, a pigeon cooing (they nest in the roof behind the cornice), a memory. You call them flying rats, but you insisted that I return a little one to a nest. My hair is damp; my fingers smell like nicotine. You won't like that. You who are fond of saying, "Don't smoke in my presence."

You . . . you . . . you live in every crease of my brain. How much longer must I wait before my passions burn themselves out and I can sleep?

I consume my own intestines. My sweat smells of alcohol. The sheets are damp. A cockroach crawls across a stale bagel. The electric clock hums. The hands move. Chunks of time evaporate. Nine fifteen becomes three thirty-five. I fear dehydration. The fridge contains a gallon jug of spring water. I could crawl to the fridge, drink spring water, get dressed, and phone an exterminator.

The chair has four legs and only one pierced the floor. So if I give myself four contact points as opposed to the usual two (my feet), then I will not crash thirty feet into a locked cellar. I will merely sink and become lopsided like the chair. I will perhaps cut a knee or the palm of my hand, but I will not perish from a fall or starve from lack of Chinese food or sober up from lack of vodka or suffer a sudden and unexpected withdrawal from my addiction to nicotine.

The psychiatrist spoke about anxiety. That explains nothing. I knew before I walked into her office that my normal physical and psychological functions were disrupted by a threatening event: your disappearance. The slob who runs the corner deli knew that. He said, "Dude, you look fucked up; better smoke a doobie." He didn't ask for a hundred bucks. His observation was free, included in the price of a pastrami sandwich. The cab driver who shuttled me over to Brooklyn Heights knew. He said, "Bitch betray me once. Mother fucker from down the hall eattin' her pussy while she's talkin' to me on the phone about what's for lunch. Don't hurt no one. Ain't no bitch worth going to Rikers for. You jus' clean yourself up, get a good haircut, shine up your shoes, and wrap your arms around the first ugly bitch who smiles at you. That's what I done. And you better believe that shit worked. Bitch is so happy she got me, she never forgets to feed me, and she so ugly that no nigger gonna bother wit her."

The psychiatrist is right, the deli man is right. They both prescribe drugs. The cab driver is right. Everyone is right, but I can't pull out the plug. I'm eager to desiccate myself. I leap at the opportunity for self-immolation. I consume my own intestines.

I am insecure about nothing. It's true. You are missing but that's not the point. I doubt you would, but if you bothered reading this nonsense, you'd understand that I am compelled to doubt. I'm certain a costly analysis would lead to some event in which I first felt the dread of abandonment, but such an analysis, even if the entire project could be paid for with counterfeit bills, would not explain anything except the event, something to do with my discovery of indifference. I saw the sea swallow a boy.

Yes, I am certain that on some specific day as a result of some specific event, call it event X and day Y, I quivered, the world wobbled, and sweat dripped from my bald armpits.

Why? Because!

As a child, each summer my family would drive from Brooklyn to Cape Cod (that's where I saw the boy swallowed by the sea) while all the other family members gazed at the scenery, I kept an eye on the gas gauge.

The gas gauge was a good place for my young mind to dwell. It moved slowly. The needle took a full six hours (a time equivalent to that of the entire trip) to traverse the distance between full and empty. The filling stations were twenty or thirty miles apart, the places between them desolate, and other drivers weren't likely to stop. I'd seen plenty of stalled cars with white flags tied to their antennas. We passed them as did thousands of other vacationers. I envisioned them, the family, a sweating man peering beneath the hood, a listless woman standing helplessly beside her husband peeking plaintively at passing motorists while bored children wandered ever closer toward the woods which started just where the road shoulder ended. A woods, I was certain, populated with escaped convicts who would abduct a child between the end of twilight and the rising of the moon.

With each movement of the gas needle, I considered tapping my father on the shoulder and suggesting he top off the tank at the next station, but even then, I suspected my world to be a private one. Other people weren't staring at the gauges; they were squabbling.

You see, even as a small child I had my means of generating ambivalence, but absolutely no interest in checking the accuracy of said gauge. That is what my father would have done. He would have applied science, purchased a second gauge calibrated to the supreme and ultimate gauge: the one that could never be wrong. I had nothing in common with Pop. An alternative or second gauge would have forced me to be inventive. I would have found something else to worry about: the condition of the timing belt or the radiator hose. Automobiles are composed of ten thousand separate parts including nuts and bolts. Our vehicle had seventy thousand miles on it; regular diet or maintenance never preoccupied Pop. So a bad bump, a mogul as the skiers say, could have caused something to break.

I concealed the quivering of my belly. Even the thought of detection made my scalp damp.

I'd speak to my father of the need to pee or hunger pangs, and suggest as though it were an aside. "Pop, why don't you top off the fuel tank." I remained furtive until the needle pointed at the quarter mark which always happened around dusk. A time when passing motorists would not need any special justifications to bolster their indifference. The onset of darkness would suffice.

Indifference makes me nauseous. I no longer visit the sea. The sea doesn't care if I sink.

I spot a grey hair on my chest, an ominous sign; I pull it out and toss it on the floor although not ever . . . not for a single second . . . do I believe in my feeble gesture: a little peevish foot stomping.

If I had a wish, I'd pray to overcome my fear of death. What would you want?

I stand naked before a full-length mirror and repeat to myself as I have done many times before, this mirror is one hundred years old. It belonged to the General. The black streaks, holes in my reflection, are places where the quick silver has pealed off. My cock is tiny.

I have gone through this same routine dozens of times. I turn to the left (so I'm in profile), and decide (dispassionately but authoritatively) that my cock is of average size, but my balls are large, bigger than average; and therefore, they cause a perception problem: they make my cock appear to be smaller than it in fact is.

I have never--not once--measured my penis, or consulted any authoritative text books. I'm sure doctors have razor sharp numbers: if your penis isn't X, than it's small regardless of how it appears relative to the size of your testicles.

I am bewildered. My eyes remind me of the perplexed brown ones belonging to a doe who'd been dazzled by the bright lights of an oncoming car. I fog the mirror with a few puffs of my stale breath and vanish.

Today, I told the psychiatrist about your last visit. I continue speaking to her although I wouldn't dare make a second appointment, passing bad money is serious crime and I regret doing so. I'm sure she'd have me arrested. Last night, I had a thought that made me tremble: the psychiatrist deposited my phony bill into her bank account via an ATM machine, an ambitious clerk opened the envelope, examined the bill, detected the fraud, seized the counterfeit money, and now, at this moment, inspector Kiely from the bad money division is leaving a message on Shelia-the-Shrink's answering machine.

You think crime fascinates me. You've never understood a thing. I am a very poor man. I save my pennies for your visits, and if I'm short, I squeeze tenants. I bang on their doors and tell them lies about past due taxes and the cost of heating oil so I can buy you some pot, treat you to a fat-free-vanilla-yogurt-ice-cream, and leave something in my pocket for you to furtively remove while I'm sleeping. I've never given you bad money or used any in your presence.

I tell the invisible psychiatrist how your knock had startled me (I never mention the bad money when I'm speaking to her). I explain to her, my make believe doctor, the-milk-toast-mermaid from Manhattan Island, all about door knocking. A landlord gets three kinds of knocks: the no money knock, the I'm paying up knock, and the something is broken knock. The startling knock didn't fit the pattern. It sounded like the knocker had authority, a warrant.

I explain to the psychiatrist how my mind is indifferent to facts. It automatically sifts through worst case scenarios. I explain how my mind moves in that direction as spontaneously as a compass needle points to the north. The invisible psychiatrist nodded her head. She was waking up. I like the way she nodded her head when I said that. The doctor knew I was setting myself up. So I explained to her gently as one would to a child, I said, "Knowing you're setting yourself up is not a motive to change." I believed the unidentified knocker to be a person from officialdom.

I explain to the psychiatrist with the utmost gravity about how little patience a knocker with that much authority would have for me, a man without a public mien.

I tell the psychiatrist, how I loaded my revolver. I speak as though I'm a warrior bold enough to spit in death's eye. I say dramatic opportunities should never be spurned. I explain how I wrapped myself shroud-like in the sweat-dampened sheets of a restless night of dreams I'd rather not recall, tip toed across the brittle lattice work of termite tunnels above which I live, and peeped through my cracked peep hole.

Lies . . . lies . . . lies. I scurried around like frightened guppy in a tank full of piranhas. I bolted the cellar door because I have the electric meter rigged. I stuffed the remaining bad bills in a hole beneath the old cast iron stove (it's an original; belonged to the general; a man by the name of Issac Miller built it for him in 1897). I was certain the good doctor had given inspector Kiely my phone number and he'd traced me.

"Stop staring at me," Those were the first belligerent words you had hurled against my locked door. Everyone in the building heard you: Anton, Beaulha, Larry, and Cornelius M. Crenshaw the Second. At eight a.m., before all our filters are in place, everyone hears everything.

Your hollering embarrassed me as do all public displays of private worlds.

After I unlocked the door, you stepped bumptiously across my threshold, strode arrogantly into my living quarters, the room in which the general's servants had dined, and ordered me to open the shutters and let some light into the room.

Claudia, for the brief interval between your unexpected arrival and your sudden departure, I was as happy as-- a tool-using-symbol-making-belly-scratching-pussy-hound hurtling through space on a tiny planet bound for the moment at which gravity snaps like an over stretched rubber band--can be.

Happiness is what remains when fear dissolves.

I opened two of my four shutters for you despite my flicker of owner's outrage at the proprietary manner in which you entered my space and the humiliating way you ordered me to do so. "Open them!" You'd said. You ordered me to open those shutters without pausing to consider me, the man who is unnerved by the mere thought of passing pedestrians peering into his room.

Two diaphanous steamers of pale late afternoon sunlight shone through the rectangular spaces left when I had folded back two of my four shutters. They'd illuminated the floor: two rectangles touching at the corners. You sat in one, placed your feet in the other, and turned your face toward the sun.

"Come on, sit next to me. I can barely hear you. You're mumbling and I'm hogging the sunshine. Do you have any pot?"

Do you recall any of this? I hadn't spoken a single word since you'd entered my home. Do you recall placing your index finger in my belly button and searching for lint?

Your atavistic gesture resulted in my complete absolution of you. It inspired me to say to myself, Claudia is not acerbic in her essence. No . . . No . . . No. She isn't acerbic in the least. She's afraid of rejection. Who isn't? That's what I thought as I flexed my flabby belly and lifted my shirt to provide better access. I apologized to myself on your behalf, for your absence and your razor ribbon words. My willingness to forgive increased as my penis expanded. It's that simple. I'm certain we evolved in layers, not quantum leaps.

I often desire to describe our faces, your eyes or mine, a wry smile, something, anything, but I always draw a blank. Have I ever once during these past two and a half years looked you in the eye? Do you really think my father's death crippled me?

When you stepped out of the bathroom, my attention focused on your out stretched hands. I believed your cupped hands concealed a toothbrush, my magical brush, the one you'd promised me a year ago. That belief led to the most miraculous chain of thoughts. I decided right then to sell my gold, regardless of exchange rates, to convert my metal into paper money, real dollars, and use that loot to hire an exterminator. Yes, I saw myself thumbing through the yellow pages, dressing for the banker, shaving for my mother, bathing for the clerks, and bargaining with the exterminator while graciously accepting my new tooth brush (I suffer from romantic tendencies; they cannot be contained; I'm always dreaming of unions without fissures and relentlessly searching for clues validating my wish. I'm certain that an insecure man invented god). When we were only a step apart, while I prepared to accept your present and embrace, you opened your hands and released a swarm of winged insects. They flew out an open window.

"Your bathroom is full of termites."

Insecure people of the crumbling sort aren't capable of malicious laughter. We're too busy dodging collapsing structures. You misunderstood me. As a child, I would laugh when I saw someone injured. It wasn't a laugh at as much as a hysterical hiss that resembled a laugh. That laugh performed like the pressure release valve on a boiler; it prevented an explosion(the death instinct fascinates me. It taints every gesture).

"Get rid of them."

It was right there, right then at the moment of fracture that a drop of sweat rolled out of my armpit and the floor shattered. I felt as though it had.

10.9.94

Claudia,

What did you do last night?

Love,
Milo

Right now. I mean awhile ago. How long? (That would be your first question. I thought it in your voice. I often think in your voice). I'm not certain. My shutters are sealed, and the old electric clock makes more noise but keeps less time. I told myself, I said, as I've said done dozens of times before, You, meaning I, will put out the cigarette and stand. A man like you should never sit, sitting is dangerous. He shouldn't have a chair. He should have a list of chores, many properties, and hundreds of tenants, for properties, tenants, chores, and success could generate a sort of critical mass that might squeeze out troublesome thoughts. My thoughts flicker like a bulb with a bad filament.

The truth is very hard, one could break a tooth or tear an intestine trying to digest it. Nonetheless, I will write it with my chewed Bic pen on this stained legal pad I stole from the offices of Lustig and Goldberg (attorneys specializing in ejectment). I don't know where the pen came from or why I speak so often of a pistol that doesn't exist.